New York Times columnist Roger Cohen explains that America is best seen not as a nation but as a bazaar:
America’s Bountiful ChurnObviously, D.H. Lawrence was a noted liberal — after all, he liked sex — so there can’t possibly be anything sarcastic about his observation.
Roger Cohen DEC. 31, 2015
GALLUP, N.M. — The main drag in Gallup runs along Historic Route 66, adjacent to the railroad. The Hotel El Rancho, where movie stars filming westerns once stayed, is still there. A host of trading posts sell Navajo jewelry, pottery and rugs, as well as artifacts made by the smaller Zuni Nation.
I wandered into the Silver House Trading Co. and found Hafiz Nassar watching CNN with his wife. He managed a tired, amiable smile. Turned out he was a Palestinian who had left a village near Jerusalem more than four decades ago, tried New York and found it too noisy, moved on to Denver, before coming out to New Mexico to sell Lebanese and Turkish rugs. “You know, I just stopped here,” he said. “You have to stop somewhere.” …
We got talking about Middle Eastern politics, the last thing I expected to do in downtown Gallup, but you never know when or where conversation may veer to the travails of the Holy Land.
Nassar goes back to his village once a year for a few weeks. He complained about the Israeli roadblocks that turn the short distance to Al Aqsa Mosque into a long and tiresome journey. He talked about the connivance that cements the violent status quo. He said peace would have to come one day and on that day the world would be amazed at the wealth Israelis and Palestinians could create together. I agreed, a little wearily, a little wanly. …
I had been reading D. H. Lawrence, who lived in New Mexico in the early 1920s. He wrote: “That’s why most people have come to America and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.”
No vehicle for reinvention as powerful as America has ever been or is likely to be created. The vast emptiness of New Mexico, an invitation to the imagination, is a reminder of the space here to forget and begin anew. Those who would “make America great again” by building walls are in fact closing America down.
… This has been the year of the Great Migration — one million refugees arriving in Europe by boat, some 60 million displaced people on the move, more than at any time since 1945. This is a plausible moment to play on fears, to beat the nationalist drum. Those new buddies, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, specialize in that. The Vladimir Trump policy school teaches that big lies produce big fears that produce big yearnings for big strongmen.
Therein lies danger. Decency demands that in 2016 Western societies do better in accommodating the millions fleeing the Syrian debacle.On the other hand, accommodating some fraction of the millions fleeing the Syrian debacle in the Golan Heights just never comes up. What kind of crazy person would suggest such a thing? Everybody knows New Mexico is the ideal place for Palestinians to find refuge. Think of great Americans like Sirhan Sirhan and Major Hasan.
… My daughter, Jessica Rollin, a psychiatrist, is doing her job. She and her French-born husband, François, also a doctor, moved from A to Z this year, from Atlanta to Zuni. She now treats the mental health problems of the Zuni Nation. Zuni’s remote — it makes Gallup seem like a metropolis — and I thought there of the twists of repetitive displacement and migration that brought my grandparents from Lithuania to South Africa, my parents from South Africa to London, my cousins from South Africa to Israel, myself from London to New York, and my daughter to, of all places, Zuni.It simply doesn’t occur to Roger Cohen to ask his daughter: How has massive immigration worked out for the Zunis, who have been hunkered down in the same place for 3000 to 4000 years, speaking a language that is 7000 years old? They don’t seem to have yet forgiven the Navajos, who invaded their territory from Canada about 600 years ago, much less the Spanish, against whom they revolted in 1680.
Migration is loss, but also reinvention, as Nassar’s story of Palestinian-Zuni trade reminded me. Jessica’s second child will be born in Gallup next month, just off Route 66. I see hope and symbolism in that. America’s bountiful churn endures, quieter yet stronger than the angry bombast of division.
But who cares about the Zuni? The important place on this planet is the Middle East, whose fractious natives it’s America’s duty to resettle.